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Foraging & food

Plant-based recipes and foraging adventures

The Perils of Midnight Popcorn

 

Despite my tendency to flee from social events and civilization, the past few weekends have been packed. In between attending a baby shower/gender reveal (it’s a girl!), meeting up with RISD Alumni, and playing tour guide to a childhood friend, The Conscious Festival by Green is the New Black also took place.

 
 

The festival was held at the marvelous PARKROYAL on Pickering hotel, recognizable by its impressive terraced gardens. Entry to the marketplace was free and while talks/panels were ticketed.

 
 
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the marketplace

There was music (live), food (vegan), and plenty of cosmetic/skincare products (no SLS!). A handful of the booths were run by first-time entrepreneurs, some who had only recently set up shop. First up: eco-glitter (“for glitter sisters with a conscience”) by The Mermaid Cave, available locally at Hunter & Boo. It is plant-based and certified marine and waste water compostable, and therefore safe for the oceans. The more I think about glitter, the more horrifying it becomes. Glitter is basically aesthetic microplastic as opposed to the tiny polyester particles which fall off your clothes during a laundry cycle.

 
 

Food and drinks were served on actual tableware and any remaining food waste was collected by Insectta. VeganBurg, founded in 2010 in San Fran, USA, was there serving their signature plant-based hamburgers and hotdogs.

 
 

I’m on the fence about vegan meat imitations. I’ve tried Quorn (not bad and seasoned nicely) and had my first taste of seitan a few years ago (not bad but not terrific either). I’ve also heard the argument that you should just eat vegetables and not make yourself miserable with “subpar” vegan versions of your favourite meal. It does take more effort and creativity to get tofu/mushrooms to taste like meat, but I also don’t think that it’s an entirely fruitless pursuit. If it makes an omnivore-turned-vegan’s journey less painful then sure, why not?

 
 

I stopped by Animal Allies’ booth and I’m glad to say that there was no passive-aggressiveness at all on their end. Veganism can be a polarizing topic and a fear I’ve always had (which has also never come true) is of being a phony because I’m not practicing/doing XYZ. Thankfully, none of this happened and it’s always encouraging to hear personal testimonies of how people made switches to their lifestyle and the benefits they saw from it.

 
 

And what’s a eco-conscious festival without candles, facial jade rollers, or handmade shampoo bars? For every F&B stall there were three more skincare/cosmetic booths. If you’ve decided you want to lead amore environmentally-conscious lifestyle but are overwhelmed, start with food and skincare. Count the number of products you use on a daily basis: toothpaste, dental floss, hand soap, body soap, shampoo, etc. It quickly adds up. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t wastefully) immediately throw out everything, but do some research before making your next purchase. Experimenting and testing things is the only way to confirm whether a product can occupy space in your life.

On my Christmas wishlist: The golden ratio necklace from Flo Jewelry.

 
 

Right before I left the festival, I talked to a woman (who requested anonymity) who works at a NGO organization (which shall also not be named!). She brought up a lot of sobering points which helped dispel some wishful thinking on my end. It’s incredibly easy for me to get swept up in the excitement of events like this and to jump on my high-horsed, aspirational, green warrior lifestyle without realizing how little I actually know and that livelihoods are on the line.

 
 

She summed it up well:

“The key thing is that consumer’s should be more conscious about what they do, how they consume things. Consumers should not, as an individual, make absolute statements such as, “I WILL NOT use/I WILL NOT purchase…” because we have to consider the context that we are in before we come up with a very high-level solution thinking that we are all high and mighty as a green consumer. There’s a lot more depth to the problem and to the issue that consumers need to be aware of. It's important not to be pessimistic. We need to end on a positive note to effect change.”

 
 

leaves to shed

Also new to my life is: pressing papaya leaves! Papaya plants keep sprouting up ever since an ill-fated composting “experiment,” and I’ve let one of them grow to a sturdy 2ft. It sheds its leaves regularly and at first I thought it was due to a lack of water or inconsistent watering, but after observing the notches on the trunk I have concluded that this is normal as it continue to grow taller and form new leaves.

 
 

The largest leaves are the first to fall, and I’ve been sandwiching them one by one inside an envelope and Carravaggio (Ebert-Schifferer, Sybille).

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I’m not sure what I’ll do with the leaves — maybe collect more plants and flowers and display them in an Edwardian glass frame.

 
 

a midnight feast

I don’t particularly LOVE popcorn and usually don’t buy it when I go to the cinemas because a) it’s kinda expensive and b) I’d much rather sneak in food (something deep-fried and smothered in either chocolate or salt). And as heavenly as gourmet popcorn smells, I’m too much of a scrooge to pony up and buy it. So I decided to give stovetop popcorn a go and do it zero-waste style. This meant a visit to Unpackt at their newly-opened store at OUE Downtown.

 
 
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1 cup of popcorn kernels from Unpackt cost $0.95 and I figured that I’d use all of it in one go, but I ended up using only 3 large tablespoons. I loosely followed Thug Kitchen’s recipe and here’s how it went.

 
 

TK’s recipe calls for ½ cup of kernels and 1 ½ tablespoons of high heat oil (grapeseed or refined coconut oil). Although I only used 1 heaping tablespoon of kernels, I used the same amount of oil.

Batch 1: a lot of smoke, a bit of panic, and some yelping when flames leapt up the sides of my pot. Many of the recipes I read online called for high heat so I didn’t think twice about cranking it up. Although the popcorn from this batch was not burnt, the residual oil at the bottom of the pot did burn.

 
 

Between each batch, I turned off the heat and took the pot off the stove. Did a little taste test, regrouped a bit, and then round 2 begins.

BATCH 2: No dramatic flames or smoke, which is why I was surprised to find that most of the popcorn from this batch was burnt on the inside, not the outside. Hypothesis: the heat was still too high, and the residual burnt oil from batch 1 burnt the kernels before they started popping. I removed as much of the burnt bits off using a paper towel, and proceeded to batch 3, using LOW heat this time.

 
 
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BATCH 3: this batch was just right! Not burnt and no un-popped kernels. Now onto more important things: flavouring the popcorn.

taste test: umami vs sweetness

For something savoury, I used curry powder and salt to flavour batch 1. Since plain popcorn is quite dry and bland on its own, it needs oil/fat/butter/pam to give it some flavour and to help your salt/sugar bind to it. Instead of using traditional melted butter, I lightly coated a large tablespoon with sesame oil and used it to toss the curry powder and popcorn. I went a little salt-heavy but overall it didn’t taste terrible!

A few recipes suggest adding the salt/sugar directly into the pot and I think this is a good idea — the heat and oil would help your dry ingredients stick to the popcorn. Plus, you’d be able to shake your pot to get more even distribution.

For batch 2, I went sweet and used coconut syrup and cinnamon. Honey could also work well — just drizzle the binder, sprinkle your desired powder, and toss. This was the clear winner a I have the sticky fingers to prove it.

Conclusion: Stovetop popcorn is not as terrifying as it sounds, is cheaper to make, and you can customize your own toppings. It comes together quickly so be prepared. Keep the heat low, get your viewing station set up, and you’re golden. As always, please exercise common sense and caution in the kitchen. Don’t text and cook at the same time and don’t leave an open flame alone in a room!

 
 
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